Changing Woman, Part Four: The Mother

Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 5:28pm

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Brent Stirton/Le Figaro Magazine
Four.
The Mother

Part 1: Kinaaldá

The first episode of Changing Woman focuses on the Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls, one of the most important and sacred rituals is experiencing a resurgence today. We’ll hear parts of the songs and the rituals from the kinaaldá and learn how powerful an impact it can have on a young woman.

Part 2: The Historian

We’ll meet Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale. Through her story and the book she wrote about her great-great-great-grandparents, we will better understand how women’s power has been repressed.

Part 3: The Leader

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Part 4: The Mother

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Part 5: The Healer

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Part 6: The Rockers

The Nizhoni Girls are redefining what it means to be Navajo. They're shaking down their assimilated ways in their songs and holding onto key Navajo beliefs in their activism.

On the cover of Sihasin’s new CD “Fight Like A Woman,” Jeneda Benally holds her bass above her head poised to throw down.

“I kept thinking everybody says, ‘Fight like a girl,’ and that’s such a bad thing,” Jeneda said. “But to fight like a woman. Like I come from a matriarchal society. We call on the spirits and the deities, like we fight.”

Navajo women fought alongside the men in battles against the Spanish Conquistadors and against other tribes.

Sihasin
Sihasin comes from a long tradition of protest music and espouses traditional Navajo values to their audience. Sihasin

“I saw my grandma, who was this pint-sized woman with gray hair, but have the strength to wrestle down a horse and had the strength to like carry whole barrels of water off the back of a pickup truck,” Jeneda said. “I grew up really understanding that as a Diné, as a female, that all things were possible.”

Jeneda’s parents — Jones, a medicine man and hoop dancer, and Berta, a rock promoter — met in Hollywood, California. The couple moved back to the Navajo Nation to raise their three kids.

“We didn’t have much access to music other than what our parents were singing and ceremonies we were attending,” Jeneda said. “Our parents' friends said, ‘We’ve made this mixtape for you. This is called punk.’ And it totally blew our minds, because we realized, ‘Wow, there is so much truth in this music.’ And that really spoke to us because of our background because of the resistance and the oppression that we felt.”

Many families, including theirs, had been relocated because of a land dispute between the coal mine and the Navajo and the Hopi tribes.

Jeneda’s youngest brother, Clayson, found an outlet for his anger in music.

“Drums became my passion at the age of like 8, 9, 10,” Clayson said. “When I finally bought a drum set at the age of 10 there was just no going back. I just kept playing and playing and playing. And I was a mumbler and I had problems communicating. For me the drums became my voice.”

Jeneda fell for the deep rumbling sound of the bass. Their brother, Klee, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and together they became Black Fire. The punk band quickly gained popularity and played with groups as big as the Ramones.

"Strong Together" from the album "Fight Like a Woman" by Sihasin. Sihasin/YouTube

Through their songs they protested the environmental impacts of coal. They raged against cultural genocide.

But their biggest cause became the making of snow out of treated wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks, land considered sacred by many tribes.

The Benally siblings wrote songs about it, marched in protests. Klee even chained himself to a backhoe. But it wasn’t enough. They decided to take the U.S. Forest Service to court.

The Benallys appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and lost in 2012.

“Being a minority amongst minorities as Native Americans in this world, we’re less than 1 percent of the population here in the U.S.,” Clayson said. “And oftentimes we’re completely marginalized, we're ignored. When my daughter said, ‘When are we going to save the peaks?’ That was one of the hardest things. And our elders warned us, ‘We are going to face drought and hardships because we pray to this mountain for water.’ And today seeing our forests dying, seeing the horses die from thirst and drought, there’s no coincidence that all these things are connected.”

The legal battle became a turning point.

“We questioned after losing our lawsuit, ‘What comes after anger?’” Jeneda said. “We’ve been angry for so long and we have been rightfully angry our entire lives — and we realized that what really needs to come after anger is hope.”

The word for hope in Navajo is sihasin. That became the name of their new band. Klee opted out to pursue activism.

Jeneda and Dahi
Jeneda Benally and her daughter Dahi. Laurel Morales/KJZZ

Hope also felt necessary as the siblings became parents. Both Jeneda and Clayson each have two daughters.

“Now that I’m a parent it’s like putting a drop of water on something that’s been dehydrated, because it just blossoms,” Jeneda said. “You never realize the amount of love that you have. The love is so immeasurable and so infinite that of course you’re gonna want to move mountains or you’ll want to actually protect mountains for your children, because it’s all about them.”

Sihasin has produced two albums. They haven’t completely let go of their punk sound but they’ve also incorporated folk, pop and traditional Navajo music. Their latest album includes their kids.

“We have all the girls singing on it because it’s really about community coming together and we see our youth as our future leaders, especially from the Diné Nation it’s matriarchal,” Clayson said. “So it’s all girls chanting and singing, ‘We can, we will, we are strong together.’”

 

 

Part 1: Kinaaldá

The first episode of Changing Woman focuses on the Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls, one of the most important and sacred rituals is experiencing a resurgence today. We’ll hear parts of the songs and the rituals from the kinaaldá and learn how powerful an impact it can have on a young woman.

Part 2: The Historian

We’ll meet Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale. Through her story and the book she wrote about her great-great-great-grandparents, we will better understand how women’s power has been repressed.

Part 3: The Leader

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Part 4: The Mother

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Part 5: The Healer

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Part 6: The Rockers

The Nizhoni Girls are redefining what it means to be Navajo. They're shaking down their assimilated ways in their songs and holding onto key Navajo beliefs in their activism.

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